When I was at school, many years ago, we were taught how to write a letter. This was the main form of communication and the structure for different types of letter was considered to be extremely important.
When I went to secretarial college I was taught even more intricacies of business communication and I am still a pedant when it comes to letter writing. For example blue ink for personal letters and black for business, and when to use yours faithfully or yours sincerely.
Of course now written or even typed letters are a rarity and most communication is done electronically. Email is the preferred method of business contact and at least can provide a hard copy when it is printed: far less easy to deny than a verbal conversation.
Most young people use text messages or some form of electronic messaging and it seems to be the best way to keep in touch with my children and grandchildren. Even this requires some understanding of literacy and there are preferred systems for example, I am in the wrong if I forget to put xxx at the end of the message to friends and family.
To get back to a more formal method of communication there is still a place for a written missive in our society and I should like to see more paper records of thoughts and opinion that can be kept for posterity. Where would we be without the thousands of historical letters that have shaped our understanding of the past and its personalities?
Going back two thousand years it is St Paul’s letters in the Bible which gave us the foundation of Christian teaching. Many biographies of the famous and infamous have been based on letters and it is often the best way to understand the character of the subject.
Letters have become a vital part of our culture and understanding of the past so how are we to leave a comprehensive record of our civilisation for the future. Will our future descendants think we saw life through a hash tag (#)?
Here at the Mature Times we rely on our readers to send us their thoughts, reactions and opinions which we can publish on our letters page. While we do still get paper letters most of the contact is by email which from our point of view is easier to have published. It is also quicker and easier for us to respond to an email but it is nice to get the occasional letter and we are always happy to hear from you.
Is there a correct format for emails? Some guidance that I have found for teachers indicates
- header: information at the top of a message that contains the sender’s address and the date
- greeting: the opening or salutation
- body: the main part of a message
- closing: the sign-off or goodbye
- signature: the sender’s name
There are dos and don’ts but mostly they are obvious as all relate to clarity of communication. Emails are ideal for fast succinct information, or asking questions that require instant answers. The rules are much easier and as long as you are polite: don’t write whole words in capitals as this indicates shouting, and clear: don’t use acronyms or abbreviations. Use them as a conversation and respect the understanding of the recipient.
This brings me back to the original topic of writing letters and who, when and why to use them. I have kept the letters my mother wrote to me while I was away from home and they are a strong link to her memory. I have written to my grandchildren and they have been delighted to receive such a personal communication. Let’s keep the letter alive as a special way of keeping in touch.
What do you think? Are we in grave danger of losing the art of writing a good letter?
by Charlotte Courthold